What school taught me about loneliness – and how I am un-learning isolation

05/08/13

unlearning_loneliness

I learned about it by accident.

The girls looked at me from accross the room. They suddenly went silent.

“We need another boy for the party,” one girl had said to the other.

The looks on their faces, paired with the sudden silence made no room for mistake.

There was a party.

And I…

wasn’t invited.

Growing up on the countryside, I attended a small primary school. We were only 12 children in the class – six girls and six boys. Out of those six girls, two of the them were best friends. And they were really really (really really) cool.

The other two girls were pretty decent too. They were occasionally hanging out all four of them. Or so I overheard.

Because I … wasn’t invited.

So I spent my days at school wandering in the schoolyard. Alone.

I wanted so badly to be part of the group, but I was so afraid if them. The girls had made it clear on more than one occasion how loser they think I were.

But how could they know? They barely knew me! It was so unfair!

I digress.

For this particular party, though, I decided to give it a try.

And I did what any 10-year old would do.

I mustered up all my courage.

AndI made a card.

Decorated with hearts and pink colours, I wrote:

“Dear cool girls*, can I please come to the party? Too? Love, Marthe”

(*I didn’t actually write that, thank you. I used their names, but I have too much decency to share their names online.)

I left it on one of the girls’ desk.

And hoped for the best.

Aaaaand of course it didn’t work out.

I can still feel the shame burning when I think about it. Their reaction to the card, and my feelings to the reaction is still too raw to describe fully. My heart still ache for this young version of me.

And to this day, it makes me uncomfortable to approach people I label in my mind as cool.

To this day, I get nervous whenever I hear talk about a party.

To this day, whenever I don’t have plans on a Saturday night, I feel all those hurtful feelings over again.

Uninvited. Lonely. Not good enough.

I was a smart student growing up, but school didn’t just teach me how to ace a math test.

School also taught me:

:: that there are people who are good enough … and there are people who just don’t fit in. Like me.

:: to always have an answer ready to the question “what did you do this weekend?”

:: to always look over my shoulder.

:: the importance of having the right clothes, brands, things.

:: that pretending to be less intelligent would earn me more credit than straight A’s.

:: there is something fundamentally wrong with me.

:: if you keep your gaze down and your back hunched, you can walk down any hall almost invisible.

:: the only class that matters is sports or gymnastics.

:: don’t let anyone see you cry. Ever.

And let’s say it this way. I was a good student. I learned my lessons. And for years and years and years – I thought I had to change myself in order to fit in.

I thought I was lonely because there was something wrong with me, and that I had to work really hard to fix it.

It almost killed me.

And then something changed.

I realized that you don’t have to live your whole life in the shadow of your painful history.

I realized that you don’t have to change who you are, but who you spend your time with.

I realized that you don’t have to be lonely anymore.

And as soon as my mindset changed, my reality changed too.

I started looking at the world from the inside out, instead of from the outside in. I stopped caring about being cool. I stopped caring about the coolness of my friends. And I stopped caring about the coolness of my life.

And instead of looking for proof of my loneliness, I started to look for proof of my connection.

I litterally wrote a list of all the names of the people in my life, to convince my mind that I wasn’t as lonely as my mind wanted me to believe.

I learned how to make friends.

And I started to invite interesting people out to grab a coffee – even if it was the first time I was meeting them.

And they said YES!

Slowly, but surely, I am building real friendships instead of walls.

The universe must sense the difference, because I keep being approached by people who want to get to know me too.

I found my tribe.

And they found me.

However

Loneliness isn’t always being alone – it can also be existential.

Anyone who has ever been lonely knows that there is nothing like the kind of hell that you experience if you feel lonely – even when you are surrounded by friends.

I know, because I have been there too.

It took me 25 years, but I learned that the only way to make this feeling go away is to befriend yourself. You have to learn how to be okay – screw that, thrive – in your own company- Sadly, the only way I know how to do that is by spending lots of time alone. And make the decision to be okay with it.

Stop abusing yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. Get to know yourself, like you would want to get to know a really interesting person (because you are!) and treat yourself. Learn to know what kind of company you want to be for yourself.

For me, I learned that I really enjoy hanging out with myself if there’s music. And I really enjoy to go to coffee shops by myself. I learned that I enjoy solo exercise better than I like running with others. And I learned that there are no limitations to what you can do if you are doing it alone. Cooking weird (but oh so tasty) recipes? Check. Listening to really goofy tunes? Oh yes. Getting home at 4 in the morning? No one will care, but you.

This is how I am unlearning loneliness.

I stopped trying to be cool. I spent a lot of time alone (and learned how to enjoy it too). I became my own best friend.

They say it’s a school of life.

They say you live, you learn.

Well, I would like to add –

It’s time you un-school yourself.

It’s time you un-learn all the faulty lessons you picked up along the way.

It’s time you learn,

how sweet life can be.

 

 


Skjermbilde 2013-08-05 kl. 17.52.38Do you want to be my friend on Facebook?

Although I may be perpetually uncool, I post daily inspiration and encouragement over at The Freedom Experiment’s Facebook Page.

And we’re a group of 3400 awesome human beings interacting, sharing inspiration and getting to know each other over there.

You are INVITED.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Naomi August 5, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Hello Marthe!

Thank you for the giant hug this post just gave me. I’ve been feeling particularly fragile lately and in wrangling with past pains, I too have been learning how to give myself the love, the acceptance, and the permission to be just as I am in every moment. I occasionally revert back to expecting others to give me those things but, my self-love muscles are getting stronger all the time. Thanks again for sharing so much of your gorgeous and inspiring self with us!!

-Naomi

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Yalí August 6, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Hi Marthe,

Thank you for this post. I was also that child from elementary school all through high school. It was only in the last year or so of high school that I realized I didn’t have to change myself (unless I wanted), that I was a great person just the way I was, and that made me feel less lonely. When I moved to university I found people who didn’t care about having the right clothes or being cool, and I started to make real friends.

But the loneliness and heartache were devastating. Reading this brought tears to my eyes, I felt so identified. Obviously un-learning all of that is an on-going process, but learning that others are also going through it or have managed to overcome it is inspiring.

Thank you again.

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Jackie Moll August 9, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I see that there were a lot of us out there… The ones that were made to feel as though they were never good enough. It was a way for the ‘in-crowd’ to feel superior, and to have better control over their own insecurities. Once I figured that out, 20 or so years after high school, I just didn’t care about that kind of friends anymore.

All of a sudden I too had those special times when I enjoyed being alone and being my own best friend. I also now find, that I have had more REAL friendships that have endured through the years. The best part is that some of those friendships happen to include my parents and my siblings. With the friendship, there’s the added feeling of love that no outsider can ever own. As seniors, we find ourselves wanting to live closer to each other so what time we have left in this world can be spent together, reminiscing and sharing those so long ago years.

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Bettina August 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I too was moved by your vivid discription of your lonely years. I felt much the same while growing up. That changed my life was when I learned and felt the love of Christ for me. I learned that I am precious to Him. This knowledge caused me to be less concerned with what others thought of me. Like attracts like, and the friends I now have are few, but true. I find that being alone, not lonely, is a gift. I have learned to love my own company!
God bless

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Maria August 9, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I was the ugly duckling in high school. I was never invited anywhere and no one hung out with me for that matter no one really spoke to me. I was known as my brothers sister. My brothers were popular and were invited to everything. It seemed like no thing was ever planned if they weren’t a part of it. Fast forward … I love my time alone, I learned to love myself, to accept my past….( it was hard but I survived the pain, the ache in my heart) Now I am the one that every one comes to for advice and the one everyone wants at a gathering. We just had our 40th class reunion and everyone looked so old and worn. It felt great seeing all of them looking that way. ( I know that wasn’t a nice thing to say….but). Thru out the years I’ve learned that you have to love being your best friend. I enjoy myself, I don’t really care what anyone thinks, I know that I am happy, free, and lovable. I am able to eat by myself and travel without feeling like someone has to approve. People approach me and I have made some truly wonderful friendships. When I tell my story about being made fun of and not being in the ” in crowd”, they don’t believe it. I thank God for that experience. It made me stronger, happier.

I love you for always bringing insight to what is real.

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Lauren August 9, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Marthe,

This is unreal. I teared up reading this article because I literally just had this EXACT same epiphany last night. I went through the same thing at school. I always felt I didn’t fit in and no one understood me. I would go through a book a week my sophomore year in high school because I didn’t have a life. Now I equate loneliness with being uncool, so whenever I find myself alone (even if I JUST got done hanging out with my best friends), I feel extremely uneasy and anxious. I always wondered why that was. To this day I have to be “too cool for school,” and I am afraid to share my emotions.

Thank you so much for writing this article. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to be so vulnerable and open like that. I know for me, even now, if I’m talking about my life when I was in school, I still get emotional because it was such a rough time for me and I don’t think I have fully healed from that experience yet. I still have some residual suffering that I face to this day. So thank you, thank you. Your vulnerability and openness has definitely caused a shift in my thinking and really starting on my healing journey :)

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Keri Kight August 9, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Public school was a nightmare for me as well. I had a few hundred kids in my grade level, so it was easier for me to hide. My boyfriend as well had a rough time; he ended up at the hospital because some kids decided there was something wrong with him. If we ever have children, they will be home schooled. The reality of public school is that it’s all about test scores and the popularity contest, which has nothing to do with the real world. In the real world, you can be you true self, and not have to hide it. That’s the beauty in finding yourself.

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Ali August 9, 2013 at 10:34 pm

I love reading ur blogs after what I’ve been through I realise I’m a far better person than all those who have hurt me and I know I always will be!!!

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Erin August 14, 2013 at 7:54 am

I recently graduated high school, and I also only recently realized that I should accept time with myself instead of trying desperately to spend time with poisonous friends. Lately, my life and my relationships have felt so much better because I have only been surrounding myself with uplifting people. And you’re right! So many girls struggle with being alone and being anxious if they are not seen out doing things and posting pictures of how much fun they are having. It is a growing pain that a lot of us need to come to peace with just by living. Thank you for this.

Erin

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Kemala September 17, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Thank you for this and for all your inspirational quotes. I am going to heed your advice and change my life one step at a time. This blog has been an eye opening experience. I am so thankful for you.

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Z May 26, 2015 at 2:24 pm

people tend to say that i like in my own world. as a child, i enjoyed to play on my own, to invent tales, i was living in a pink bubble. i was childish, silly and weird. but i never considered myself cool or uncool, i was always in the middle. funny, how you say you found your tribe, because i always thought of my childhood friends as a herd, and i was happy to be part of that herd, i felt secure and protected. And today is not as pink as the past, the friends as not here anymore to hide me from the cruel world, now i have to do something with myself and i dont know what. i am lost. confused. and i always was, but know i have to face it and its scares the sh*t out of me. i always thought things will work out for themselves, but they didnt. and now im stuck.

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Bronwen June 1, 2015 at 3:37 pm

Oh Marthe,
I wish as children that we could have somehow known each other. I tried to fit in when I was around other kids, but I didn’t know the cool songs or wear the right clothes. I knew the words to poems and could sing Kris Kristofferson songs…not the Spice Girls. I wore thrift shop clothes that my mum would take me to, and my friends were characters in books and horses, cattle and pups. I cried in resonance with your words – the moment with the card and how they excluded you. All those superficial bullying…and how inspiring to read of how you are looking after your inner child and unlearning those lessons. I keep comparing myself to where I ‘should’ be – but as odd as I am I keep meeting lovely people now who are interested in similar things. The way you put that to heal you need to befriend yourself – that strikes a glorious chord with me. It makes sense now! I’m not being selfish or silly…but letting myself know that I am worthwhile just as I am now. <3 Thank you for writing about this with honesty and verve!!!

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